When it comes to food, no region of Japan offers quite the same range of flavors as the country’s northernmost prefecture. Considering its significantly shorter cultural history combined with its role in international trade and, more recently, its global reputation as a top-notch winter sports destination, Hokkaido will surprise you with what it can bring to the table. 

A quick search online will flood you with recommendations touting must-tries — snow crab, soft serve, cheese and miso ramen, to name a few — that are fantastic starting points to dabble in Hokkaido cuisine. But why not take it a step further? Below, we introduce four local eateries that showcase some unique aspects of Sapporo’s culinary scene for first-time visitors.

1. Shime Parfait at Parfait, Coffee, Liquor, Sasaki

Garnering its name from shime, meaning “conclusion” and, more colloquially, “the final meal after a drinking party,” a shime parfait is not quite a dessert, not quite a meal. Without exaggeration, it’s a little evening event of its own. 

Shime parfaits range from fruity delights to rich, chocolaty towers of ice cream featuring Hokkaido milk, among other high-grade ingredients. Wandering the streets of Sapporo at night, you’ll come across long queues — not for the many clubs in the city, but rather for this exquisite way to end a wild nocturnal outing. 

Parfait, Coffee, Liquor, Sasaki dominates the shime parfait scene. Their menu is famous for its seasonality and desserts, as well as their indulgent appearances and complex flavors. Customers can also complement their parfaits with hot or iced coffee, or a pour of carefully selected sake. Indecisive sweet tooths should, without hesitation, indulge in the course menu that pairs parfait, coffee and liquor in one sitting. 

2. Soup Curry at Beyond Age

With temperatures that fall well below 0 degrees Celsius in the coldest months, it comes as no surprise that you will find ample choices of warm, hearty dishes. As a dish said to have originated in the prefectural capital, soup curry falls within the top recommendations for Sapporo. 

A classic bowl includes a light, curry-infused broth with chicken and, usually, a healthy portion of cooked vegetables. Some soup curry joints also throw in some fish or shellfish. Unlike Japanese curry or Indian curry, Sapporo soup curry is a meal on the lighter end of the spectrum, though not without its fair share of spice.

Local chain Beyond Age elevates the Sapporo staple by offering a more inclusive and expanded range of soup curry varieties to suit all diets. Their menu is specially designed to be customizable; choose your broth base, your protein and additional toppings to suit your appetite. The restaurant is especially popular within the Sapporo vegan community as it offers vegan and vegetarian options too for those who prefer to eat plant-based. 

3. Craft Brews at Beer Cellar Sapporo

Craft beer is having a moment. Although more labels and varieties are available everywhere across the country, tap rooms are still the preferred place to sip on or discover your favorite brew. Whether you’ve just recently gotten into it or are a well-versed fan, Beer Cellar Sapporo promises a vast selection of US craft beers as well as the occasional collaboration with independent breweries around Japan. 

Beer Cellar Sapporo is run by people who know their stuff and follow in the steps of Sapporo’s sister city, Portland, USA. The majority of their selection on tap are imported brews from Oregon, which has become famous in the craft beer world for its dedication to innovation. Beer Cellar Sapporo continues to be inspired by this philosophy and hopes to share it with their customers. 

Sip on-site or take your pick from a wide variety of bottled and canned beer to take home. The store also houses a well-stocked shelf of beer and brewing accessories, including sampler gift sets and growlers.

4. Niboshi Tsukemen at Isai

Sapporo ramen is an obvious must-try. There are countless places where you can taste this variety of the classic Japanese noodle dish as well as hyperlocal variations such as Asahikawa ramen. But foodies keen to try something that stands out from the lot may want to explore something more experiential that works towards changing the Sapporo ramen landscape for the better. 

Located only a block from Nishisen Rokujo Station, Isai is a specialized ramen restaurant that serves niboshi (dried sardine) tsukemen. Unlike the more well-known type of ramen, where noodles, ingredients and broth are served together, tsukemen is enjoyed by dipping noodled into the broth, which comes on the side. Often, the noodles are served cold while the broth is piping hot. 

Run by Tsubasa Inoue, a Tokyo native who fell in love with Sapporo culture and cuisine, Isai hopes to combine the comforting heartiness of local ramen with the umami of Japanese sardines alongside chewy Hokkaido-grown wheat noodles. It’s recommended to add a little bit of store-made lemon oil to the broth, as it helps lighten the texture and accentuate the flavors. 

Every visit to Isai rewards you with a new broth. The chefs play with thickness, which they announce on a handwritten board atop their cooktops. They source their sardines not only from Hokkaido but all over Japan in hopes to find the best combination. 

Isai has one clear objective: to make the Sapporo ramen comparable to Tokyo’s in its diversity and quality. The store also hopes to add a vegetarian or vegan option to its menu to suit a wider audience. 

For more travel inspiration and ideas for your next trip to Hokkaido, like and follow the official Hokkaido Love! Facebook page


Photos by Anna Petek

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